Some Thoughts on Constitutional Amendments

Manila Bulletin, March 28, 2004 | Go to article overview

Some Thoughts on Constitutional Amendments


I WANT to thank you for this opportunity to be able to discuss with you one of the most abiding concerns of our time the amendment of the Constitution in order to make the government set up in it responsive to our needs as a people. Like you, I believe that the time has come for a change. I hope that after we are through with the elections we can attend to the business of amending the Constitution at once. This is a task as urgent as the need to look for solution to the problem of peace and security.

Indeed, there is an overwhelming demand by our people for constitutional reforms. This is the finding of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Revision of Codes and Laws of the Senate on the basis of public hearings and consultations conducted by it. For this reason, the Committee submitted Senate Joint Resolution No. 17, calling for a constitutional convention to be held this year 2004 "to propose amendments to, or revision of, the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines."

The Committee on Constitutional Amendments of the House similarly conducted public consultations and found that "there is a clamor from the people to institute constitutional reforms in the present Charter at the earliest time possible." Unlike its Senate counterpart, however, the House Committee recommended that the amendment of the Constitution be undertaken by Congress and, for this purpose, filed House Concurrent Resolution No. 16, to constitute the Senate and the House into a constituent assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution.

There is indeed no mistaking the signs of the time: People want a change. What they do not want is a constitutional change that will give incumbent officials a chance to extend their stay in office.

For despite almost 70 years of trying under the presidential system of government, we have failed to realize the vision expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution. It would seem that our almost 70 years of experience has only made us smarter and wiser in operating the presidential system. I will not give you a bill of particulars, lest I be thought of being engaged in partisan advocacy since we are in the midst of an election season the like of which we have never seen in this country before. I trust, however, that even without such a bill of particulars you will understand what I mean. Suffice it to say, the abuse of the system has reached the point where only if we undergo a moral transformation as a people can we redeem ourselves and make the system work as it should.

Let me now discuss some of the proposed amendments to the Constitution. For the sake of simplicity I will disregard the distinction between amendments and revisions but will just refer to the proposed changes in the Constitution as constitutional amendments.

A parliamentary form of government

A record number of measures have been filed in both Houses of Congress for an amendment of the Constitution to change the present presidential system of government. Of the 30 measures filed, only one is a proposal for an amendment of the present system. This proposal, which is embodied in House Concurrent Resolution No. 5, seeks to increase the term of office of members of the House as well as elective local officials from three to six years with two-consecutive term limit. The rest of the proposals are for a change from the presidential to a parliamentary form of government. The Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments Revision of Codes and Laws stated in its report that of the 40 resource persons who had testified before the Committee, "not a single resource person openly and directly contradicted the proposition to change the form of government from presidential to parliamentary." The reason commonly given is that "the gridlock inherent in a presidential system has constrained government to do business at a snail pace, to the detriment of the public welfare."

But although the overwhelming sentiment appears to be in favor of the parliamentary system only four of the 30 measures I obtained for study contained specific proposals for a parliamentary system of government. …

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